How can we make pipelines safer? Pipeline leaders weigh in.

Zero incidents. That’s the goal of the pipeline industry. Between 2002 and 2013, 99.9995 per cent of liquid product transported by CEPA’s members was moved safely. But how can the industry move that number to 100 per cent?

North American pipeline leaders discussed pipeline performance during the Pipeline Executive Leadership panel at the International Pipeline Conference in Calgary at the beginning of October. The panel discussed how safety management systems are key to continuously improving safety.

International Pipeline Conference

The Pipeline Executive Leadership panel at the 2014 International Pipeline Conference: (Left to right) Alan Armstrong (Williams Companies), Tim Felt (Colonial Pipeline), Ron McClain (Kinder Morgan), Alex Pourbaix (TransCanada) and moderator Patrick Veith.

“Whether you’ve had a safety management system for 20 years or you are starting from scratch, you are never done. There’s always room for continuous improvement,” said Ron McClain, president of products pipelines with Kinder Morgan, to a room full of pipeline professionals.

Why are pipeline safety management systems so important?

If you think of ways companies are making pipelines safer, innovations such as in-line inspection tools and leak-detection sensors may come to mind. Those technologies are instrumental to operating safe pipelines. However, the answer to eliminating pipeline incidents is not in one technology alone.

As discussed in last week’s post, major incidents occur when there are failures in a number of safety activities. Having a safety management system (which is required for Canadian pipelines) allows companies to link individual safety activities into a series of interacting processes and to continuously evaluate their system as a whole.

“It’s about continuous improvement and getting to intentionality. A safety management system forces some activities to be done regularly and intentionally,” said McClain, who chaired a committee tasked with developing recommended requirements for pipeline safety management systems for the American Petroleum Institute (API) in the U.S.

McClain’s committee developed 10 “essential elements” for an effective safety management system:

  1. Leadership and management commitment
  2. Stakeholder engagement
  3. Risk management
  4. Operational controls (for example, maintaining safe operating procedures and safe work practices)
  5. Incident investigation, evaluation and lessons learned
  6. Safety assurance (performing audits and evaluations)
  7. Management review and continuous improvement
  8. Emergency preparedness and response
  9. Competence, awareness and training
  10. Documentation and record keeping

The API document (PDF) also stressed that an effective pipeline safety management system “cannot exist without a positive safety culture” (this idea is shared by Canada’s National Energy Board, you can read its Statement on Safety Culture here).

So . . . does technology still matter?

Continuous innovation and the implementation of new technologies are instrumental to operating safe pipelines. However, safety management systems will help companies identify areas of their operations where innovations are most needed.

“From a safety perspective, there’s a lot more we can do from a culture and leadership standpoint than from technology,” said Alex Pourbaix, president of development and executive vice president of TransCanada PipeLines Limited. “And by improving those areas, we improve our ability to adopt technology.”

This is the third post in a four-part series based on information shared at the International Pipeline Conference in Calgary from Sept. 29 – Oct. 3. Over 1,400 pipeline professionals from around the world attended the conference.

Read other posts in the series:


The Canadian Energy Pipeline Association represents Canada’s transmission pipeline companies who operate approximately 115,000 kilometres of pipelines in Canada. In 2013, these energy highways moved approximately 1.2 billion barrels of liquid petroleum products and 5.3 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Our members transport 97 per cent of Canada’s daily natural gas and onshore crude oil from producing regions to markets throughout North America.